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will it stay airborne?
The Primate and the Airliner: A Fable with No Moral
“Allowing a monkey to drive a race car sounds like an amusing idea, but only to those who have never tried it.” – The Bard of Affliction
The great Airship of State had been flying for 241 years now.
It wasn’t always an airliner, of course. Back when it began to function, a hot-air balloon was sufficient to hoist its machinery. As the years flew by, however, and new technologies became available, it eventually transferred itself into ever more efficient aerial transports, the better to float high above the hostile environment below. Propellers, in time, gave way to propjets, then to high-bypass turbojets, and the Airship moved faster and faster over the land and sea below it.
The Ship was an expensive proposition, cost-wise. More passengers joined it every year, some born on the craft and others from every land in the world boarding it. There were even a few stowaways, desperate people who were happy to perform the most menial tasks in order to stay on the Airship. Surprisingly, most of the new passengers contributed to the Ship in unexpected ways, creating improvements in fuel efficiency, or entertaining the other passengers with their literature or acting.
Remarkably, for an increasingly complex piece of machinery, the Airship had managed to stay aloft for well over two centuries thanks to its well designed mechanical systems. There were actually three linked, semi-independent control mechanisms, each designed to adjust and correct serious problems in one or both of the others. Over the years, a succession of (mostly) skilled pilots worked in concert with the control systems to navigate the Airship successfully.
Once in a rare while, a pilot would die unexpectedly while in the cockpit. In those cases, the copilot would immediately step in, sitting at the controls until the regular shift change came along. Except for such unusual situations, each pilot would work tirelessly for the duration of the shift, whereupon a replacement would be selected by the passengers. And many times, a pilot would pull a double shift if the passengers so willed.
There were some times when turbulence of one sort or another would sicken many of the passengers. There were also times when hostile forces threatened to shoot the Airship down. Fortunately, its skilled pilots – and its ability to cruise at an exceptionally high altitude – kept it safe.
Perhaps it was the length of the flight, or perhaps it was a growing diminution of the quality of the food in coach class (where steak had gradually given way to pretzels and peanuts), but eventually a significant number of the passengers grew dissatisfied with the course that the Airship traveled. They decided that dramatic change was necessary. Scraping the thin layer of stowaways off the Airship was one solution they proposed. The stowaways, of course, thought this was a bad idea. Most of them kept a low profile and paid their fares like everyone else, but now they were being accused of lurid crimes, such as farting in the galley. Rational discourse was becoming more difficult.
And then the shift change was upon them, whereupon the dissatisfied passengers proposed that an Orang-Utang be allowed to pilot the Airship. The proposal – no doubt a measure of its proponents’ disaffection – was derided by most of the passengers, but the selection process weighted votes by seat row, not simply by numbers.
It was a shock to almost everyone, not least the Orang-Utang, when the beast won and was immediately placed in the cockpit.
Entranced by the pretty lights and instruments, the russet-haired primate immediately began pushing buttons. The Ship began to lurch and whine, but the dissatisfied passengers figured the noises to be from the long-lost steaks being shifted around and moved into the galley. The triply redundant control system, meanwhile, kept things flying despite people on the ground becoming increasingly nervous about the unusual noises coming from the craft soaring above them.
Goaded by his trainer, the Orang-Utang kept pressing more buttons and banging on the dials. Many were delighted: Things were going to change, by God! Others, perhaps less sanguine, began to wonder. Would the triply redundant control system hold? Would the instrumentation continue to function? Would the great Airship keep airborne until the next shift change, or would it come crashing down? They had been unhappy with the pilot that had been chosen, but now they were in the peculiar position of having to pray for his success.
- Image: Orang-Utang and the airship is a composite image created for LikeTheDew.com using images from the movie “King Kong” 1933 (Radio Pictures/Public Domain); USS Macon (ZRS-5) Flying over New York Harbor, circa Summer 1933 (US Navy via Wikipedia/Public Domain); and USA Map (OpenClipArt.org/Rights Free).